Fish 'suspension' confuses traders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am

York Chow denies there was a failure in communication

The health minister has denied there are any flaws in communications with the mainland, despite complaints from fish traders yesterday of confusion over a sudden halting of imports from across the border.

Hong Kong fish traders claimed exports of all freshwater fish and 70 per cent of other seafood items including saltwater fish, shrimps and mussels were suspended by mainland authorities yesterday.

The traders were only informed by their mainland suppliers about the suspension on Saturday night but were given no reasons, said Tommy Hui Hon-man, chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Freshwater Fish Wholesale Association.

'We were told by our mainland suppliers that they were blocked at the checkpoint and were told not to send their fish stocks to Hong Kong. But there were no explanations for the arrangement ...We did not know why the mainland authorities suddenly came up with the measure. That was really frustrating,' Mr Hui said.

The Macau government, meanwhile, said it had been informed by the mainland about the suspension of mainland seafood imports on Saturday night.

Early yesterday, the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau insisted that the mainland had not banned exports of seafood and that Hong Kong had not stopped any imports from across the border.

The bureau said mainland authorities had tightened their inspections on seafood but did not disclose the reasons for this until Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok called a media briefing to explain the situation last night.

Dr Chow said: 'We immediately contacted the mainland authorities after we obtained the test results yesterday [Saturday] and they have also told us about their plan to tighten their inspections. So I don't think there is any problem in our communication. How can we tell you about this before having everything checked?'

But Lee Choi-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants, said he had been told by the mainland suppliers that exports of live salt-water fish, crabs and mussels could be resumed today, excluding shrimps.

Fish vendor Yung Kwok-keung, who has a stall at the Wan Chai wet market, said his business lost several thousand dollars yesterday. Mr Yung said he might not trade today before the supplies of freshwater fish resumed.